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Monday 10 December 2018

Soft Cell say hello to wave goodbye

They set the 1980s ablaze with 'Tainted Love'. Now Marc and Dave are making a welcome but all too brief return

Marc Almond and Dave Ball about to conquer the charts in 1981
Marc Almond and Dave Ball about to conquer the charts in 1981
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

They say that nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days. Say what you like about the 1980s - the decade that good taste forgot - but they had some very special moments. Prince with Kiss; The Jam's Town Called Malice; The Specials' Ghost Town; Madonna's Into The Groove; David Bowie's Ashes To Ashes; U2's With Or Without You; Joy Division's Atmosphere to name but a very short, if illustrious, few.

Add to that the heavily influential Soft Cell in 1981 with Tainted Love. . .

Dreamily out-of-kilter vocalist and spectacular Southport profligate Marc Almond and sultan of synthesiser and Blackpool-born Dave Ball met at Leeds Polytechnic in 1977. Marc was in the year ahead doing eye-catching and certainly thought-provoking performance art. His main piece was suitably rude; its name unprintable in a family newspaper. As Dave Ball recalled, Marc would "be naked in front of a full-length mirror, smearing himself with cat food and shagging himself. It provoked quite a reaction". I'd say it did all right.

Marc was toiling in the cloakroom of Leeds club Warehouse when the DJ fatefully played a track called Tainted Love and he immediately raced up to Ball and inquired thus: "What's this?" What this was was an old Northern Soul song, mostly forgotten, a B-side to a 1964 single written by Ed Cobb and sung by the goddess-like Gloria Jones. "I loved the title and the opening line, 'Sometimes I feel I've got to run away'," said Almond. "It summed up how I felt. It was 1981 and I was 21, already feeling world weary after some love affairs. I adored the sneering, curled-lip aspect of the song."

"We were a weird couple," added Ball, "Marc, this gay bloke in makeup; and me, a big guy who looked like a minder."

When the decidedly odd couple's cover of Tainted Love went to number 1 in 17 countries across the globe, the duo were, famously, living in a dodgy little housing association flat in Leeds and being flown about in Concorde like kings with black eye-liner and studded wrist bands. Soft Cell's 1981 debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret set out their sonic stall, as did, indeed, subsequent albums like The Art of Falling Apart in 1983 and This Last Night in Sodom in 1984. Soft Cell were unique in their own way, standing out from the sometimes bland New Romantic 'movement', courtesy of Almond's bona fide outrageousness, to say nothing of his lyrics about sex dwarves and the like - and his self-admitted penchant for the darker side of life; and heroin, LSD, opium, cocaine.

New Musical Express once said that Marc's "search for inner fulfilment took him to places that respectable folk would sooner not know about".

Despite singing other alt.classics like Say Hello, Wave Goodbye and Bedsitter, Soft Cell will always be known for one song.

"I've had to learn to love Tainted Love," said Almond - who is also known for his duet with Gene Pitney on Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart which hit No 1 in 1989.

"But there was a period in my life when I never wanted to sing it or play it again.

"That's always a big mistake. People say, 'Why do you want to disrespect our growing up? Why do you want to deny it?' And they're right. You can do all kinds of artistic, esoteric or theatrical projects, and then you can come back to earth and sing a few pop songs. You go on stage and sing Tainted Love and everybody loves you and forgives you everything."

Flagged as Say Hello, Wave Goodbye - a nod to their third single - the duo are playing their farewell concert in London's 02 Arena on September 20. It will be Soft Cell's first show in 15 years.

"With Soft Cell I always felt something was unfinished," said Almond. "This last ever final show will be the best ever ending."

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